The All-Star festivities in Salt Lake City showcased a couple of Zags over the weekend with Domantas Sabonis in the main event on Sunday night and Andrew Nembhard taking part in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday evening. Nembhard is averaging 8.1 points and 4.2 assists in his rookie season with the Indiana Pacers. He is top five in field goal percentage at the rim for guards (72%) and this season has seen him become a consistent starter and part of the Pacers’ rotation.
After Friday’s event saw Nembhard and Team Pau win the Rising Stars Challenge, he sat down and talked about the weekend and his rookie season. Here’s the conversation:
You’re at the NBA All-Star game not only as one of the rising stars of the league, but also as an ambassador for Panini trading cards, can you talk about what you’re doing for them this weekend?
Yeah, we’re at the Prizm VIP Lounge with Panini, having fun, vibing.
an absolute DIME from Andrew Nembhard. pic.twitter.com/vjPQfkQSrh— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) February 18, 2023
Your Rising Stars team won the event, with you and Jose Alvarado showing out including that absurd behind-the-back bounce pass. Do you find any similarity in your and Jose’s journeys?
For sure, we’re guys who kinda have been counted out or other guys have been put before us a little bit. We’re two guys that work hard, and play hard. Understand that we do winning things on the court.
You played alongside your teammate and countryman Ben Mathurin, has having a guy with a similar background helped you progress at the next level?
It’s good. It’s a comfortable feel. Me and him coming through, getting into the league at the same time, getting drafted at the same time. Going through similar things. We bounce things off of each other a lot. We’re just continuing to grow and get to know each other.
I don’t know if you heard but the NCAA released their preliminary top 16 bracket order today, and they have Arizona and Gonzaga in the same region. How awkward would that be?
It’s gonna be a lot. We already talk a lot of nonsense about our two teams so there’s going to be a lot of shit-talking for sure.
We’ve seen some of the highs, be it that behind-the-back pass in the Rising Stars game or you sinking that game-winner against the Lakers, but has there been a “welcome to the league moment” for you?
Yeah, we played Steph [Curry] and the first time I had a good game against him. Maybe I thought it was going to be sweet again the second time we played him. You could just tell, he had a different look in his eyes. He went for a quick 35 and he didn’t even really play in the fourth much.
It was nice to see him do that, and he’s one of the guys I definitely looked up to so that would be my welcome to the league moment.
I interviewed your dad during your senior season, and he really expressed how tactical and forward-thinking you and your family have been in pursuing your dreams and making it to the next level. What has the last few months, let alone the last week, meant for you and the rest of the family?
Yeah, it’s been nice—it’s been really nice—to celebrate the moment. It’s kind of hard with the way the NBA season is to get to stop and celebrate the moment and appreciate things like that. It’s been nice to celebrate that this weekend with them. I know my parents are super proud of me, they’re trying to enjoy their time too.
I remember when you played in those combine games and excelled you said you were confident that you’d do well because of the kind of game you play, especially in the Pick and Roll. Is that still true at this level? Obviously, the level of talent is higher, skills and athleticism is greater, but is there still a truth that this is the same game and your vision and ability to read defenses remain true?
For sure. I think I know who I am on the court and I feel very comfortable about my game. So there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have confidence on the court. I don’t really ever feel like I don’t belong at all. So when I see those guys in games I just compete. I don’t feel star-studded at all.
There is such a process and mentality for getting to the league, getting that first contract. How have your goals shifted since entering the league and getting these honors this weekend?
Yeah, like you said the pursuit to get to the league is tough and long. You put all of your focus into that and as soon as you get drafted that pursuit gets shifted to maybe getting that second contract or develop and getting better to get into an increased role. So that’s where I’m at right now, I’m trying to get better and continue to develop and become one of the better players in this league.
You’ve already started over 40 games this season, was that always the plan with the Pacers with how they’d bring you along or have you just grinded and exceeded expectations, gone into that role and hung onto it?
Yeah, I think it was a little bit of me exceeding expectations. I think maybe there wasn’t too much expected of me. Really, one of the good parts about me being a second-round pick was that I came with all of the confidence because there really wasn’t too much that I could lose in terms of playing bad.
I’ve just exceeded expectations and just trying to impact both sides of the court which is exactly what the coaches ask of me.
How have you adjusted to going from playing 30 or so games per season to the grind of the NBA? Like what’s the mentality when you’ve played 50 games and you realize, ‘oh, I have 30 more to go.”
Yeah, it’s a mental grind for sure. You’ve got to lock into scouts a lot more. Less time to prepare for teams so you’ve got to just be on top of it you’ve got to be prepared and watch your film. You don’t want to be left behind in that sense.
What do you hope to accomplish with the rest of this season?
I want to be super consistent. I want to show that I’m getting more comfortable, getting away from just being that rookie that’s surprising people. I want to be a consistent piece of the team. And I want to win games. I want to go over .500 over these last 22 [games].
Who is your mentor or has taken you under their wing on the Pacers?
There have been a few guys, I think James Johnson and TJ McConnell have been guys to kind of step up and take me under their wing. From the time that you step on and off the court to just furthering my career.
I love those stories of rookies and their responsibilities for the rest of the team. Are you getting James and TJ coffee in the morning? Are you getting them their meals before their flights?
Yeah… I’m getting the donuts before flights and I gotta keep this speaker on me at all times.
Oh, that’s what the JBL speaker is about?
Yeah, it’s a JBL that I always got on me.
What do they make you play on the speaker?
I just bring it with me, they play the music. I just got to hold it.
You’re the sound man.
Yeah, I just take care of the behind-the-scenes stuff for them.
What’s it been like to play under Rick Carlisle? How is he similar to [Mark] Few or I guess what’s it been like playing under these legendary coaches?
Yeah, they’ve got their similarities and differences for sure. I think Rick has got so much experience in the league dealing with different circumstances, dealing with different players and he’s just been a blessing to just give me an opportunity and allow me to play through my mistakes. The thing that I love about him and Few is that they’re just straight shooters that keep it real. They don’t like to bullshit and that’s what I love about them.
Have you kept in touch with Few and the staff during the season?
Definitely, I’ve been talking with those guys. I actually talked to them recently. They keep in touch and always want me to do my best and I love going back and seeing those guys.
Chet [Holmgren] was just at the game against LMU in Los Angeles. Obviously getting to play in the Rising Stars game changes your availability. Do you think you’ll get a chance to take in a Gonzaga game this season?
Probably not this season, honestly, with our schedule. But next season I’m going to try to for sure. I’m going to try to go to as many games next season as possible.
How do you feel Gonzaga prepared you for where you are now?
I think just the way Few runs his program. He gives you a lot of autonomy. He lets you be a pro and get your stuff done and learn through your mistakes. That’s the biggest thing he’s done for me. The environment there just prepares you for the pros.
Talking to Rasir [Bolton] and talking to your dad, it’s been mentioned several times how much you like the process of sitting down and watching tape. Are you still finding time to break down tape and giving feedback to guys?
I’m not giving feedback to guys too much on Gonzaga, I’ll watch their film though–—eh I don’t want to say all of that. I did hit up my mans Ben Gregg a few times. Not for real, not for real [film breakdown] though.
Talk about Ben though! What a season.
Man, Ben! I’m really happy for him. Great season for him. He’s really coming into his own, finding his confidence. He’s going to continue building his game and I think he’s going to take a big step next year for sure.
Where do you see this Gonzaga team going the rest of the way? Have you been able to pay attention to their season?
Yeah, I’ve been watching a little bit. I try to tune in to as many games as possible. I think they’re a dangerous team in March. I think people are surprised by how many losses they have because Gonzaga usually only loses a couple of games a year and stuff like that. But those losses prepare you for March.
They’re going to be dangerous and they’ve got a lot of depth. They’ve got a lot of different guys that can light it up on any given night.
Speaking of that, I don’t know if you saw, but Julian’s been on a hot streak right now, filling it up he’s 17 for 24 these last two games.
Oh yeah. Definitely. I saw that. He can put it through the rim. He’s got a really good touch.
Andrew, thanks so much for your time and for catching up with us.
Definitely, appreciate you guys.